It is here that we first glimpse that gap between thought and action, between analysis and program, which has perhaps been the salient characteristic of the General's exalted experiment in romantic statesmanship. The analysis, here, as in virtually everything he has attempted, has been surer than the prescription; the diagnosis more pertinent than the cure. Try as he might, De Gaulle has never really managed to give this national ambition a clear definition or direction. For a while, together with his intellectual disciple, André Malraux, he toyed with the idea that as the Voltairian haven of the most unorthodox, heretical, and revolutionary ideas, France has the mission of providing a philosophical synthesis between East and West, between capitalist America and Communist Russia. But the tentative efforts that have been made, both after the war and, more recently, at the time of Khrushchev's visit to France, to implement this philosophy have done little to excite the imagination of the French people.
The General has also been much tempted by the idea that France has an African destiny. This is, almost certainly, a more realistic notion, and the Franco-African Community is, along with the new Constitution, one of De Gaulle's few concrete realizations since his return to power. But just what the future of this Community is likely to be is a mystery, and here, too, in the face of practical difficulties, the ideal has tended to dissolve in a mist of Gallic skepticism.
Still, the General is persuaded, the country must be galvanized, the national heart stimulated, the people exhorted, even if it is not quite clear what the exhortation is for. This is the explanation for that often vapid and pompous grandiloquence which has characterized many of his speeches, an oratorical style relying heavily on what an irreverent critic, Jean-Francois Revel, has aptly called the use of “hyperbolic truisms.”
“We are the great, the only, the unique French people,” he declares at Vichy on April 16, 1958. “France is on the march toward a great destiny,” he informs the population of Nevers on April 17, 1959, “All France, the whole world is witness to the proof which Mostaganem has brought us today, that all the Frenchmen of Algeria are the same Frenchmen,” he proclaims to his Algerian public on June 6, 1956. These rhetorical incantations are employed to make the people of France and of the French Community feel that in some mysterious way they are embarked on an exalted enterprise and that in some glorious, though intangible, way, France is climbing out of the abyss and toward the “heights”—a favorite De Gaulle word. Though the precise geography of these heights is misty, what matters is momentum.
After the war there were Frenchmen, like Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann, who thought that the one cause which could enlist general enthusiasm in France and transcend the sterile doctrinal quarrels of the past was the creation of a United States of Europe. De Gaulle refused to lead his prestige to this undertaking, not only because of his military conviction that all patriotism is essentially local and that without patriotic fervor nothing worth while can be accomplished; not only because he saw in European integration a threatened leveling of all those national, provincial, and cultural diversities which have been the source of the peculiar richness of European civilization; but also because he detected in the establishment of a European executive and parliament a threat to that national sovereignty which he had so jealously and intransigently assumed in June of 1940, an inadmissible intrusion on his private, passionate love affair with France.